Sundowns want to chase Kaizer Chiefs all the way
JOHANNESBURG – The reigning Absa Premiership champions are in search of their record-extending 10th league title in the Premier Soccer League era.
It’s one of the things coach Pitso Mosimane promised to do when he took over from Johan Neeskens with the club languishing in the relegation zone with only five league titles to their name.
Mosimane dramatically turned things around, producing an outfit that will go down in the history of the PSL as one of the most dominant side in the country, which is evident in their record 71-point haul in 2015/16 (the most in the 16-team PSL era) and winning the CAF Champions League in 2016.
Their season so far
The Brazilians are right where they want to be, close to leaders Kaizer Chiefs going into the final stretch where they are very strong.
The four-point gap, with Sundowns having a game in hand, means it could turn into one point and the two teams still need to face each other.
Sundowns have all the aces in their pack. They have shown time and time again that they are one of the strongest teams in the final stretch.
Mosimane is confident they can win their last five games, and they have the hunger to finish in style, not only to retain their title but to return to the Champions League where they have unfinished business.
The scary part about Sundowns for their rivals is that they are yet to kick into top gear. They are slowly getting there and with no Champions League football and the rest due to the coronavirus outbreak, they will come back fresh and eager to retain their title.
Their season has been average, but because of their quality they sit in second place and with a strong belief that come the end of the season it will be their name and not Chiefs’ etched on the league trophy.
Mosimane is a master of mind games. He has continuously ruffled Chiefs’ feathers because they are the biggest threat to their ambition of winning the league.
He did the same to Orlando Pirates and Bidvest Wits when they were fighting with Sundowns for the championship.
His ability to make Sundowns players believe they are up against the system pushes his team to fight stronger in the final stretch.
His work rate and methodological planning just adds to that.
Coach “Jingles” has also been bringing young blood in that will take over from the seasoned campaigners who have served the club well.
What they’ve done right
The Brazilians have done well to keep up with Amakhosi despite their hectic schedule that saw them reach the quarter-finals of the CAF Champions League while also remaining competitive in the domestic arena.
Their experience of managing games, to be able to grind out results when necessary, means that they are a big threat in this part of the season where every club is fighting for something.
Sundowns boast a quality side that has humbled even continental giants.
They have an explosive attack that hasn’t been unleashed just as yet.
The club also has a relatively stable team with a technical team that has been there for years and a team that hasn’t been changed much with just a few additions made to the group that won the league last season.
They know what it takes to chase and defend a league title as they are looking to bag a third successive Premiership crown.
What they’ve done wrong
Sundowns have been able to hide their lack of a genuine No 9 by having talented attackers who can fill almost every position in their attack.
Players like Sibusiso Vilakazi, Lebogang Maboe, Thapelo Morena and even right-back Nicholus Lukhubeni have been used as a centre-forward by Mosimane by manipulating space and stretching their opponents’ defenders.
But these players aren’t out-and-out strikers and they are exposed against resolute defences.
Sundowns’ lack of a genuine striker, with Mauricio Affonso injured, means their return of goals is quite poor compared to the chances they create.
It’s a weakness that can be punished in a tough contest or when goal difference ends up being the defining factor of who wins the league.
It’s a problem Mosimane has tried to solve for a number of seasons, with no striker, except Leonardo Castro, making the position his own and giving the club a different dimension in their attack.
Gaston Sirino: There are a number of players who can claim to be Sundowns’ key player.
There is Denis Onyango, a resolute figure in goal, Motjeka Madisha, who has been a rock, and captain Hlompho Kekana. But when the Brazilians need magic, their Uruguayan sorcerer Sirino is the one who opens his bag of tricks and makes things happen.
He might be small in stature but he has the heart and fighting spirit of a giant. That sometimes works against him as it gets him in trouble with referees and the PSL’s prosecutor.
Home: Orlando Pirates, Golden Arrows, Baroka FC, Black Leopards
Away: Highlands Park, Maritzburg United, Cape Town City, Kaizer Chiefs, Polokwane City